If you look closely at a package of Wana Brands fast-acting cannabis gummies, you’re likely to notice that the product is certified as kosher. In fact, all of Wana’s products that are manufactured in Colorado have been certified by Whole Kosher Services, a company based in Houston.
It is commonly understood that kosher refers to food products that are permissible under Jewish law. Well-known provisions of the laws regulating what is kosher (referred to as kashruth in Hebrew) include prohibitions on pork and shellfish. Other rules prescribe conditions for the ritual slaughter of livestock and prohibit the comingling of meat and milk products.
But kosher certification goes beyond ensuring a product does not contain ingredients that are not allowed. Rabbi Yaakov Cohen, the kashruth administrator of Whole Kosher Services, explained in a telephone interview that the designation also means that the product has been produced in a clean facility under hygienic conditions.
“When something has a kosher certification, it means there’s another pair of eyes that are watching on this product,” says Cohen. “Kosher basically, in its broad definition, means fit, fit for consumption.”
The Jewish community in the United States makes up about only 2% of the population and those who follow the kosher rules constitute a fraction of that group. However, Cohen notes that up to 60% of the food and beverage items in a typical grocery store have a kosher certification.
The apparent disparity is indicative of how many people outside the Jewish community find value in kosher certification. For example, vegans and vegetarians can be assured that packaged goods do not contain meat products. And because kosher rules are more strict than halal, Cohen explains, Muslims can also be assured that a certified kosher product is acceptable under the dietary rules of their faith.
Joe Hodas, the chief marketing officer at Wana Brands, says that kosher certification is a clear indicator to consumers that the company’s products are made in a clean and well-run facility. And because many certifications such as USDA Organic are unavailable for cannabis products and facilities, kosher certification illustrates the care that Wana takes to provide premium products to its customers.
“We pride ourselves on making our products accessible to as many people as possible, so the kosher designation fits right in line with other call outs such as vegan, gluten-free and organic sweeteners,” Hodas writes in an email. “For those who keep kosher, the ability to access a premium edible that can become part of their regimen is a game-changer.”
What Is Kosher Cannabis?
But how does a kosher certification apply to cannabis products? In the plant’s unadulterated form, no animal products are involved so it’s pretty straightforward.
“There are insects in the flower buds, but because you smoke it, you smoke the buds then it’s no problem,” Cohen told The Cannigma earlier this year, adding “if you put the plants or leaves in your salad, say, that would be a problem. But most people don’t do that, so there’s no problem giving kosher certification to the flower tops.”
Processed cannabis products are a bit more complicated, however. Manufacturing facilities are inspected four to six times per year to make sure they are clean and well-maintained, and all ingredients added to cannabis must be kosher. Oils used for infusions, for example, must be kosher, and gummies must not contain gelatin because it is made from animal bones.
Although he does not promote the recreational use of cannabis, Cohen provides kosher certification for producers in consideration of patients who use the herb medicinally. He now has about a dozen businesses from coast to coast that take advantage of his services, including clients such as Curaleaf, Charlotte’s Web and California’s Utopia Farms in addition to Wana Brands, providing certification for tinctures, vape carts, edibles and other cannabis products.
“There should be kosher options available for those people who need it medicinally,” Cohen says.
Man On A Mission
Cohen knows all too well of the need for clean and safe cannabis products. At the age of only five years old, his son Elisha was diagnosed with brain cancer. An aggressive treatment plan of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation appeared to be helping initially. But when Elisha relapsed a year later, a new round of chemotherapy was ordered.
Chemo was hard on the young boy, and Elisha suffered debilitating side effects. Cohen and his wife had just begun researching medical cannabis and wanted to try treating their son with it to help stimulate his appetite. But the family lived in Houston and Texas had no medical marijuana program. After weighing their options, they traveled to California in 2012, met with a doctor, and got a recommendation for Elisha to use cannabis medicinally.
Cohen also contacted a California cannabis grower, who agreed to provide medicine for Elisha. When the family had to return to Texas, the grower agreed to ship cannabis oil to them in Houston. The first shipment came through fine, but the next package was intercepted in transit by the authorities and the California cultivation operation was shut down by the feds.
“So, Elisha didn’t get the medicine,” Cohen somberly remembers. Sadly, the boy died in 2014.
But that was only the beginning of Cohen’s relationship with cannabis. After hearing of his experience, friends came to him seeking advice on a host of maladies including cancer, arthritis, lupus and insomnia. Cohen had already launched Whole Kosher Services, serving more traditional clients such as food producers and restaurants. So, sensing the need in his community, he began providing certification services for cannabis companies as well.
Cohen is proud that his company is able to provide services that help patients obtain the medication that they need. But he also has a higher purpose in mind. He knows that the fact a rabbi has certified a cannabis product as kosher can help open minds, particularly among the older or more conservative members of the Jewish community, and dispel the misperceptions surrounding cannabis.
“We’re on a mission to go ahead and remove the stigma and help it to be available for people” who need it, says Cohen.